Pain management exists as a medical specialty based on a genuine desire to help people suffering from chronic pain feel better. But the consequences of pain are not just physical and emotional. They are financial as well. And sometimes, the wrong approach to pain management can ultimately cost more.
It is not wrong for pain clinics and the physicians they employ to look at pain management from a financial perspective. After all, patients struggling with the cost of healthcare services may experience a level of stress that only makes their pain worse. Minding treatment costs is just as important as coming up with effective strategies to help patients feel better.
The Tampa Business Journal recently published a fascinating post discussing the cost of pain management from the perspective of managing cancer pain with opioids. Author Alexis Meullner explained that physicians often prescribe drugs like morphine and oxycodone to address cancer pain. What they do not realize is that research shows that opioids, even at low doses, can help cancer spread faster by altering a patient's immune system.
Should this happen, the cost of treating that patient ultimately goes up. As the cancer spreads, more aggressive treatments are necessary. Those additional treatments only add to the cost.
That says nothing of the mental and emotional toll it takes on patients. No cancer patient wants to hear that their cancer has spread. The news can take such a heavy toll that additional stress and anxiety only make treatment harder. The result could be longer hospital stays, more intense symptoms, and so forth.
Treating cancer pain with opioids can contribute to medical costs by inadvertently exacerbating the patient's condition. But let us step away from cancer and talk about other conditions that cause chronic pain for years at a time. Fibromyalgia is a good example.
Fibromyalgia is a condition typified by chronic pain in multiple areas throughout the body. Patients often describe themselves as being in constant pain. Pain management doctors can offer patients immediate relief or take a more long-term approach to pain management.
In the short term, prescription medications can alleviate fibromyalgia pain quite a bit. But over the long term, those same medications can become quite expensive. What if the doctor takes a long-term approach from the onset?
The wrong approach to pain management is to never get beyond the drugs. It is to write prescriptions and never go any further. Prescription medications are a necessary part of the equation, but all they do is mask pain. Chronic pain patients need to get beyond masking.
One suggestion a pain management doctor might make to a fibromyalgia patient is that of getting regular exercise. There are days when exercising can be difficult. But in the long run, most patients respond very well to it. Regular exercise keeps the body active, mobile, and strong. That ultimately leads to less pain.
In some fibromyalgia patients, dietary changes can make an enormous difference. Medical science still doesn't know exactly why, but does it really matter from a pain management standpoint? No. If a patient's pain can be better managed through a specific diet, making the necessary changes will have long-term effects that go well beyond what prescription medications can do.
The more we learn about managing chronic pain, the more we discover that there are right and wrong approaches. Unfortunately, taking the wrong approach can exacerbate a patient's medical condition by adding to the financial cost. Keeping costs in check is a legitimate concern not to be ignored.